A docudrama is a film or television show which combines the fields of documentary and drama. One might call a docudrama a non-fiction drama, with a focus on real events and real people presented in a dramatized way. In addition to being filmed, a docudrama can also be written; in written form, the docudrama began to emerge in the latter half of the 20th century in the world of people like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, with film following suit.
Several characteristics define a docudrama. The first is a tendency to stick to the facts as they are known, without offering commentary. The goal is to give people basic information, allowing them to draw their own conclusions. Most documentaries, on the other hand, include narrative and positional stances which are designed to influence watchers and readers. Docudramas also use techniques to bring the events discussed to life; rather than saying that person X and person Y had a conversation, for example, a docudrama will stage a recreation of the conversation.
Unlike a true documentary, a docudrama may include staged footage with actors. Depending on the topic, little to no documentary footage may be used. In some cases, docudramas may also create entirely staged hypothetical situations, as in the case of the 2006 film Death of a President. Some organizations use docudramas to draw attention to current events and issues, with several environmental films making docudramas about the effects of global warming, for example, illustrating what might happen if the sea levels rise dramatically.
The use of “drama” in the term “docudrama” can be confusing, because drama is usually associated with fiction. Docudramas do not integrate fictional elements, however, remaining true to the events they document as much as possible. Docudramas can make historical events feel more accessible, from the Roman Empire to current events, and many of them stimulate discussion and debate by not offering opinions, forcing viewers and readers to talk about the content with each other.
You may also hear docudramas called drama documentaries or dramatized documentaries. Some people criticize the field of the docudrama, arguing that the literary license used to reconstruct scenes and bring events to life can be somewhat misleading, especially for people who are not skilled at differentiating fact from fiction. Even when well-researched, a docudrama is only one presentation of events, and it is important to remember that there may be other interpretations and that many filmmakers are guilty of sins of omission, leading people to erroneous conclusions by not providing them with all of the facts.